By Michael Bastach
September 13, 2017 - Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blamed the Obama administration’s failure to squash the “war on coal” narrative as at least one reason she did so poorly in coal country in the 2016 election.
“The Obama administration was slow to take on this false narrative,” Clinton wrote in her new book “What Happened,” which is her perspective on why she lost to President Donald Trump last year.
Trump won nearly 63 percent of the vote in Kentucky and was just shy of 69 percent of votes in West Virginia. Both states saw coal mining jobs plummet during the Obama years, and many blamed federal energy regulations.
“The most prominent explanation, though an insufficient one on its own, is the so-called war on coal,” Clinton wrote in her book. “Democrats’ long-standing support for environmental regulations that protect clean air and water and seek to limit carbon emissions has been an easy scapegoat for the misfortunes of the coal industry and the communities that have depended on it.”
“The backlash reached a fevered pitch during the Obama administration, despite strong evidence that government regulation is not the primary cause for the industry’s decline,” Clinton wrote.
Clinton also wrote her biggest “regret” was alienating coal country with a campaign gaffe. On the campaign trail, she said her policies would put coal companies out of business, which obviously didn’t sit well with many voters. Clinton regretted the gaffe, but blamed the media for taking it out of context.
Energy experts tend to argue market forces pushed the coal industry over the edge. Cheap natural gas encouraged power producers to use less coal, and green energy has gotten cheaper as well.
However, regulations did play a roll. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations forced coal-fired power plants to install costly emissions control equipment or shutdown, which many of them did.
The federal government also heavily subsidized the production of solar and wind power, both of which have displaced some coal power on the grid.
The Trump administration has begun reversing many of these policies, but these actions aren’t expected to help the coal industry much. Coal mining jobs are also disappearing because of automation.
“When it was getting ready to announce the sweeping new Clean Power Plan, which was seen as the most anti-coal policy yet, I thought the President should consider making the announcement in Coal Country and couple it with a big effort to help miners and their families by attracting new investments and jobs. That might have softened the blow a little,” Clinton wrote.
“In the end, President Obama announced the new regulations in the White House alongside his administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),” Clinton wrote in her book. “That was seen by many folks in West Virginia as another signal that Democrats didn’t care about them. Once that perception takes hold, it’s hard to dislodge.”
“That said, Democrats’ problems with white working-class voters started long before Obama and go far beyond coal,” Clinton wrote, mentioning how Obama and then Sen. John Kerry weren’t able to win West Virginia.